Equally Safe: Scotland's strategy to eradicate violence against women
A joint Scottish Government and COSLA strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls in Scotland.
1. What we are trying to achieve
'There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.' – Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General
'Gender based violence is a function of gender inequality, and an abuse of male power and privilege. It takes the form of actions that result in physical, sexual and psychological harm or suffering to women and children, or affront to their human dignity, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. It is men who predominantly carry out such violence, and women who are predominantly the victims of such violence. By referring to violence as 'gender based' this definition highlights the need to understand violence within the context of women's and girl's subordinate status in society. Such violence cannot be understood, therefore, in isolation from the norms, social structure and gender roles within the community, which greatly influence women's vulnerability to violence.'
Our definition of gender based violence, which is based on the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Our vision is of a strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and respected, and where women and girls live free from all forms of violence and abuse – and the attitudes that help perpetuate it. No woman or girl in Scotland should be subjected to violence or abuse of any kind (physical, emotional, sexual or psychological) and no child or young person should have to experience gender based violence or have to live with the impact of it.
Our aim is to work collaboratively with key partners across all sectors to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls. We are clear that there are no quick fixes to this deep-rooted problem. It requires significant economic, social and cultural change over the long term, that calls for the sustained commitment not just of a wide range of partners but of individuals and communities too.
Our strategic approach
Equally Safe sets out a shared understanding of the causes, risk factors and scale of the problem. It highlights the need to prioritise prevention, and it sets out how we will develop the performance framework which allows us to know whether we are realising our ambitions. We are committed to working collaboratively with partners and achieve change by making best use of available resources and with a clear governance framework underpinning delivery. In keeping with our use of the UN's definition of violence against women and girls, Scotland's first National Action Plan for Human Rights  explicitly recognises that taking action to address violence against women and girls is needed to ensure we realise the human rights of everyone in Scotland. Equally Safe is a strategic framework to help organisations and partners – individually and within Community Planning Partnerships – align their work towards our vision.
We know that our approach is more developed in some areas than others, and this strategy provides a framework for helping to address this as part of future work. The relevant outcomes and indicators and the actions we need to take to deliver our aim and priorities are being developed with partners, whilst individual workstreams have been tasked with producing action plans that will inform an implementation plan to take forward our ambitions.
Being aware of the national landscape
We are clear that preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls is essential to achieving the Scottish Government's overarching purpose, which is 'to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth.' It contributes to the Scottish Government's strategic objectives – in particular, Safer and Stronger, Healthier, and Wealthier and Fairer – and to a number of the national outcomes contained in the National Performance Framework. Equally Safe also provides a strategic framework for the delivery of the Scottish Government's Equality Outcome on tackling violence against women. And finally, it sits at the heart of the strong emphasis the First Minister has placed upon achieving full gender equality.
Violence against women and girls encompasses (but is not limited to):
- physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family (including children and young people), within the general community or in institutions, including domestic abuse, rape, and incest;
- sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation in any public or private space, including work;
- commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, lap dancing, stripping, pornography and trafficking;
- child sexual abuse, including familial sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and online abuse;
- so called 'honour based' violence, including dowry related violence, female genital mutilation, forced and child marriages, and 'honour' crimes.
Our shared understanding includes a definition of gender based violence which was developed by the former National Group to Address Violence Against Women. It is based on the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993), and it states: 'Gender based violence is a function of gender inequality, and an abuse of male power and privilege. It takes the form of actions that result in physical, sexual and psychological harm or suffering to women and children, or affront to their human dignity, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. It is men who predominantly carry out such violence, and women who are predominantly the victims of such violence. By referring to violence as "gender based" this definition highlights the need to understand violence within the context of women's and girl's subordinate status in society. Such violence cannot be understood, therefore, in isolation from the norms, social structure and gender roles within the community, which greatly influence women's vulnerability to violence.' The definition includes women and girls across all protected characteristics defined by equality legislation - age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief and sexual orientation.
Our definition is rooted in a gendered analysis of violence against women. This analysis firmly places the different forms of violence against women within the gendered reality of men's and women's lives, what it means to be a man and a woman in our society and the status and privileges which are afforded to us depending on whether we are born a man or a woman. This strategy flows from the Scottish Government's adoption of this gendered analysis of violence against women  , which is the subject of a considerable body of research, analysis and writing  . Equally Safe acknowledges that women and girls are at an increased risk of violence and abuse precisely because they are female and our explicit inclusion of girls  aligns with the UN definition of violence against women that includes the girl child, reflecting that this risk is present throughout life.
Where we've come from
Equally Safe builds upon a shared understanding of violence against women described in Safer Lives: Changed Lives: A Shared Approach to Tackling Violence Against Women, which was published in 2009  . Equally Safe was developed through a collaborative process involving a wide range of partners, whose contributions helped to shape the final document. Stakeholder events provided opportunities for the many individuals and organisations across Scotland with an interest to share their perspectives and experiences. We have considered a range of evidence sources, many of which are footnoted within this document; whilst not exhaustive, this provides a critical underpinning to our thinking. Since the original publication of Equally Safe in 2014, we have engaged further with stakeholders to ensure that issues relating to children and young people are strengthened throughout.
The scale of the problem
Too often incidents of violence and abuse against women and girls go unreported, and there is ample evidence on a whole range of fronts to support the view that violence against women and girls remains a serious issue in Scotland. Some key facts:
- 59,882 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by police in Scotland in 2014-15 – an increase of 2.5% from 2013-14. 79% of all such incidents had a female victim and male perpetrator  .
- There were 1,901 rapes or attempted rapes recorded by the police in Scotland during 2014-15. Where the victim's gender is known, 95% (1,278 out of 1,349) rapes or attempted rapes recorded by the police in 2014-15 had a female victim  .
- Recorded crime statistics  for 2014-15 show an increase in the number of convictions for 'breach of the peace' to 15,580, an increase of 13%. This was partly driven by offences with a domestic abuse aggravator, particularly for offences such as stalking or threatening and abusive behaviour.
- The same statistics also show an 8% increase in the overall number of convictions for sexual offences, up to 1,145 convictions. This in part reflects a 13% increase in the number of people proceeded against for such offences and includes a 40% rise in the number convictions of rape and attempted rape, and a 16% increase in convictions for sexual assault.
- One in five children in the UK will have experienced domestic abuse by the time they reach 18  .
- 3% of adults had experienced serious sexual assault (including forcing or attempting to force someone to have sexual intercourse or take part in another sexual activity when they did not want to) since the age of 16. This varied by gender, with 4% of women experiencing serious sexual assault since the age of 16 compared with 1% of men. 8% of adults experienced at least one type of other sexual assault (including indecent exposure, sexual threats and sexually touching when it was not wanted) since the age of 16. This proportion was higher for women, with 13% experiencing at least one form of other sexual offence since the age of 16, compared to 2% of men. 6% of adults reported experiencing at least one form of stalking and harassment in the last 12 months. While the overall risk of stalking and harassment was equal for men and women, the risk varied according to the type of stalking and harassment  .
- Young women face a higher risk of violence from a partner than older groups. For example, the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey found that younger adults were more likely to have experienced abuse by a partner in the last 12 months, with rates varying from 5% of 16-24 year olds who had contact with a partner or ex-partner in that time to less than 1% of those aged 65 or older;
- In a study published by the NSPCC, girls experienced more frequent and more severe emotional, physical and sexual partner violence than boys – one in three 13 to 17 year old girls reported some form of sexual violence. Girls reported high levels of coercive control including surveillance through the use of online technologies and, unlike the boys in this study, reported that their welfare was severely detrimentally affected  .
- On forced marriage, the most recent UK Government statistics found that 79% of cases involved female victims  .
- Of those children and young people referred to the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration ( SCRA) the most common grounds of referral include 'close connection with a person who has carried out domestic abuse' and 'victim of a Schedule 1 offence'  .
Developing a shared understanding
It is important that everyone involved has a shared understanding of violence against women and girls: the impact on women and girls who experience it, as well as children and young people who are affected; its causes, the scale of the problem in Scotland, and the risk factors which increase vulnerability to abuse of women and girls. Whilst violence against women and girls occurs across all sections of society, not all women and girls are at equal risk. Some factors can increase vulnerability to abuse and keep women and girls trapped. These include age, looked after status (current and former), financial dependence, experience of child abuse and neglect, poverty, disability, homelessness, insecure immigration status and ethnicity  .
Violence against girls and young women
Equally Safe recognises that, as well as adult women, girls and young women are at risk of violence and abuse precisely because they are female. Some girls are victims of child sexual abuse, including child sexual exploitation. There are a number of specific issues prevalent in the lives of girls and young women; for example, sexting and non-consensual sharing of intimate images (also known as 'revenge porn') can also particularly affect young people. Young women disproportionately experience intimate partner violence in relation to young men, and report much greater negative impacts as a result  . The prevalence of and easy access to pornography is a constant presence in the lives of young women and men that ultimately contributes to reinforcing the gender norms that play a key role in perpetuating violence against women and girls  .
Children and young people
The definition we have adopted explicitly includes children of all genders as subject to harm through violence. Violence against women and girls can have significant consequences on children and young people's lives, including (but not limited to) children and young people who are directly or indirectly harmed through violence and abuse perpetrated by adults in their lives. There is significant evidence of links between domestic abuse and emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children  , and children themselves can see domestic abuse as 'coercive control' of the whole family environment  , not just of their mother  . It is important to note that many women and children experiencing domestic abuse are no longer living with the perpetrator, so leaving home or separating does not bring an end to the abuse as is often assumed. It is also important to note that there is no predetermined 'cycle of violence', by which young men and women who have experienced the domestic abuse of their mothers will inevitably go on to abuse their own partners, or to become victims; although it is a common assumption, the percentages of abusive men who have and have not experienced it growing up are similar.
Children and young people increasingly live their lives in digital communities, and the speed of technological change expose young people to an ever-increasing range of new threats. Many of these threats demand new approaches to understanding their nature and prevalence. Other forms of violence and abuse also affect children and young people – including FGM, forced marriage, rape and sexual assault. Violence and abuse, however experienced, impacts negatively on the life chances of children and young people, and this must be addressed through the provision of effective support for survivors and those at risk, aligned with a strong focus on prevention and early intervention. As duty bearers we have a responsibility to make sure that the rights of all children are protected, including their right to have a say in all matters affecting them, and to create an environment that is safe for children and young people to grow up. Children have the right to be kept safe from harm, protected from violence and to be given proper care by those looking after them. In the context of gender based violence, children and young people must be regarded as 'victims/survivors' with the ability to access services in their own right and to be recognised as service users with an individual and collective voice in relation to the services they receive.
Intersectionality between gender and other characteristics
Along with their gender, women and girls have other protected characteristics that increases their level of risk of experiencing violence and abuse. Drivers for this are often the continuing prejudice and structural barriers in society which cause inequality. Lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and girls experience violence and abuse which targets their sexual orientation, gender identity or both; homophobia, biphobia and transphobia can drive (or be used as components of) abuse by perpetrators. The additional risk factors affecting transgender women and girls also include high levels of transphobic street harassment and hate crime, and greater levels of social isolation, which contributes high levels of vulnerability and increased difficulties in accessing services. There are challenges in relation to some minority ethnic communities, where traditional gender roles can be stronger and where cultural practices involving violence such as Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage are more prevalent. Disabled women and girls are more vulnerable to exploitation and coercion, whilst older women may be either caring for, or being cared for by, their abuser. Refugee and asylum seeking women and girls may have experienced particular trauma before or during their journey to Scotland. We are proactive in relation to ending Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage, and will seek to ensure that issues of intersectionality are reflected in the implementation of Equally Safe. We also recognise that forms of abuse, including abuse perpetrated by adults against children, can take place in situations where there are balances of power that go beyond gender and beyond minority status. These include (but are not limited to) age, physical strength, position of trust and socio-economic status, and addressing violence and abuse in the context of these risk factor will be a key requirement in our future work to prevent violence against women and girls. With all this in mind, equality and child rights analysis and assessment will be an integral part of the process around the development of outcomes and interventions.
Violence against men
The particular approach we are taking through Equally Safe brings a strategic focus to the issue of men's violence against women and girls, as underpinned by the definition we have adopted, which is in turn based on the principles of international law. A gendered analysis does not exclude men, but rather recognises that women and girls are disproportionately affected by particular forms of violence that they experience because they are women and girls. Many men and boys are victims of violence and abuse. Some boys experience the forms of abuse outlined already in relation to children and young people, whilst some men are victims of domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation and forced marriage. The prevailing societal view of what constitutes masculinity makes it difficult for men to identify themselves as experiencing abuse and can prevent them from seeking help. Gay and bisexual men and boys experience violence and abuse that also targets their sexual orientation. More fundamentally, masculinity and femininity are part of the underlying social construct of gender that contributes to the continuing prevalence of violence against women and girls in society. We condemn all forms of violence and abuse, whilst recognising that particular forms of violence are disproportionately experienced by one gender and require a strong strategic focus. Men have a critical role in challenging violence, breaking down gender norms and in helping to ensure greater gender equality in society – they are also entitled to support when they experience violence and abuse.
The international context
Our approach is rooted in the UN's own understanding of violence against women and girls. Not only is it our moral duty to take action against violence against women and girls, and to uphold the rights of women, children and young people, it is also our legal duty as set out by several international treaties and human rights obligations. They include:
- the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (sometimes knows as the Istanbul Convention)  ;
- the Global Platform for Action calling on Governments to take integrated measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls;
- the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the protections set out in the European Convention on Human Rights into Scots law;
- the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ( CEDAW), an agenda for action to end all forms of discrimination against women; and
- the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC), an international human rights treaty that grants all children and young people aged 17 and under a comprehensive set of rights.
Scotland is committed to meeting the benchmark set by each of these international treaties and obligations – as a modern democratic country, we aspire to the creation of an inclusive Scotland which protects, respects and realises the human rights of everyone. And whilst we are focusing on preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls in Scotland, we cannot forget that all over the world women and girls are experiencing abuse and violence every hour of every day. The United Nations has endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals, which set out the international community's future ambitions in development. Goal 5 is the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and that goal applies to all countries everywhere. Scotland will play its part as a responsible global citizen to advocate for the fulfilment of gender equality worldwide and an end to all forms of violence against women and girls – one of the ways in which we can do this is by being exemplar in our own approach.
Primary prevention is about preventing violence before it occurs. Our approach focuses on changing behaviour, building the knowledge and skills of individuals, and ultimately delivering a progressive shift in the structural, cultural and societal contexts in which violence occurs. This is complemented by our ambitions in achieving gender equality and eradicating poverty, which will make a critical contribution to ultimately preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls for good. Adopting this approach challenges the notion that violence against women and girls is inevitable and suggests an approach which can contribute to realising our ultimate vision. It aims to change societal attitudes, values and the structures which produce inequality. In particular, it requires a step change in the attitudes which condone and excuse violence against women and girls, which enable perpetrators to deny the reality of what they are doing and place the blame on their victims. It raises fundamental questions about the way our society is currently organised.
Although this is a long-term approach, it is not a soft option. By adopting Primary prevention as a core objective in relation to Equally Safe, we recognise that violence against women and girls is not 'caused' by a single factor. Rather it is driven by a complex interaction between a range of underlying or contributing factors, at different levels of influence – individual, relationship, community and societal. This is what we call the 'causal story' of violence against women and girls.
In the drive to achieve our long-term aim we are clear about the importance of focusing on primary prevention but we must also be realistic and recognise that women and girls will continue to experience gender based violence in all its forms for some time to come, and children and young people will continue to be affected by violence and the consequences of witnessing and experiencing violence. There are other forms of prevention too, and we will have to employ them all – these include preventing violence from recurring (secondary prevention) and reducing the impact of violence and abuse after it occurs (tertiary prevention). Early intervention and the provision of effective mainstream and specialist services will remain fundamentally important in our future work. The provision of high quality services for those at risk will continue to be important – we must ensure that women and girls are kept safe and that victims and survivors have the support they need to recover. However, we are clear that, by working towards ultimately eradicating the problem altogether we can deliver better outcomes. This is better for the individuals and communities we help keep safe from harm, and for society as women and men enjoy greater equality.
Prioritising primary prevention challenges the notion that violence is inevitable or acceptable. It demands a fundamental change in the societal attitudes, values and structures that give rise to and sustain the problem. It is the most ambitious approach we can take, demanding a determined effort over the long term. It may take some years for this approach to deliver noticeable benefits at a time when public resources are reducing and demand for measurable results is heightened – but prioritising primary prevention is the right approach if we are to achieve our aim of a strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals, regardless of gender, live Equally Safe.
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